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Even though a dog may be missing a leg, they can live a long and healthy life without it. Understanding the needs of your three-legged pet and how to make their life easier is the first step in helping them live a full life. Dogs with three legs can certainly adapt to their situation and make for playful, loving, and lifelong companions.
What Is a Tripod Dog?
A dog with only three legs is called a “tripod.” This means either a forelimb or hind limb is missing because of trauma from a car accident, catastrophic event, or amputation (surgical removal) due to infection, cancer, limb deformity, or fracture.
While they may have only three legs, tripod dogs can certainly go on to live a healthy and long life. They usually don’t require any specialized or ongoing care other than what’s needed post-amputation.
Adopting a tripod dog requires altering your expectations as the pet parent. These dogs may have a different gait or walk and may have trouble with coordination and balance, so you need to take care around stairs and inclines and watch for tripping hazards.
Agility training and high-impact sports competitions are not completely out of the question for your tripod dog but should be done with extreme caution. Also, these dogs may be at a greater risk for osteoarthritis (joint disease), spine problems, and lameness, so you need to take precautions to reduce or eliminate these risks.
Because dogs carry more weight on their forelimbs, those that have had a forelimb loss may have greater future concerns than those with a hind limb loss. For these pups, walking and running puts them at a greater risk of arthritis to the adjacent leg. And large-breed dogs generally have a harder time than smaller breeds supporting themselves on three legs.
Before taking your tripod dog to her forever home, find out the following:
Reason for amputation
Date of amputation
Long-term medical issues or complications from the amputation (i.e., If the leg is lost due to cancer, are follow-ups, additional testing, or treatments such as biopsies and x-rays required?)
Need for medication for long-term pain management
Reason for living at the shelter (i.e., owner abandonment/relinquishment, lost/stray, confiscation, etc.)
Past medical history, including any diagnostics and treatments
Current medical history, including additional medical conditions
Availability of in-house low-cost testing, coupons, or discounted medical care to help with future costs
Special diet the dog is currently on (feeding schedule and amount, and other feeding options if special diet is not available)
Preparing Your Home for a Tripod Dog
Congratulations on your family addition! You have taken the first step in building a better tomorrow for you and your new companion. While this is certainly an exciting time for both of you, remember that there is always an adjustment period for any animal in a new environment, so be patient and remain committed.
By making a few simple changes, accommodations, and preparations, you can ease your dog’s adjustment period and improve their physical and emotional wellbeing. These include:
Therapeutic bedding: decreases pressure on bones and joints
Raised food and water bowls: prevent leaning down too much to eat and drink, helping with balance
Harness: reduces the stress when lifting your dog up any stairs, in and out of cars, etc. (Help ‘Em Up Harness)
Monitoring yard for tripping hazards and uneven terrain ensures your dog’s safety when unsupervised
Carrying your dog, if possible, up and down the stairs or blocking access to the second story to ensure safety
If cost is a concern, you can get creative since many of these products can be made by you or substituted with products already in the home. For example, you can place a rolled-up towel under the pelvis to help lift and support your dog.
Be sure to schedule an appointment with your veterinarian for a checkup immediately after adoption. Discuss with your veterinarian ways to keep your dog healthy and maintain good body weight, future care, and the potential need for medications.
The Cost of Caring for a Tripod Dog
Beyond the amputation and initial rehabilitation costs, there aren’t any additional expenses in this regard for most tripod dogs. Of course, if possible, ongoing physical therapy with a rehabilitation veterinarian is ideal to help maintain muscle strength and improve coordination and balance.
And just because a dog has only three legs doesn’t mean they will be living a life in pain. For many cases where there is significant disease or infection, amputation is considered a therapeutic option that brings relief and helps improve quality of life.
Long-Term Management of a Tripod Dog
Because your dog walks on three legs instead of four doesn’t mean they can’t have fun. With patience and understanding, you can ensure they are set up for a fun and happy life.
Keep in mind the following for long-term management of a tripod dog:
Weight Management: A dog’s body weight is distributed over four limbs, with 60% of the weight supported by the forelimbs and 40% by the hind limbs. The weight of tripod dogs is distributed less evenly across their limbs. So, it’s important to keep their weight in check to avoid joint and heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and inflammation.
Exercise Management: When walking, let your dog set their own pace but watch if they become winded too soon or fatigued after the walk. For these dogs, shorter, more frequent walks are a better option than long walks.
Joint Care: Vigilantly monitor orthopedic disease in the remaining limbs and consider giving your dog joint supplements and feeding them a special diet for joint health. Be sure to discuss the best diet with your veterinarian.
Creature Comforts: Provide therapeutic bedding and additional padding to your dog’s elbows and ankles to improve comfort when lying down. Consider putting booties on to protect their paw pads when walking in cold weather and avoid walking during the hottest part of the day. Inspect the pads daily for any cracks, fissures, or sores.
Make sure that your dog’s nails are trimmed regularly to help with better traction and balance.
Leach D, Sumner-Smith G, Dagg AI. Diagnosis of lameness in dogs: a preliminary study. Can Vet J. 1977;18(3): 58-63.
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